Thursday, July 23, 2020

Masks: Girl Behind The Mask

Purchase, Screaming Trees, Girl Behind the Mask

So, apparently Gloria Estefan (I'm not sure if she brought the Miami Sound Machine with her on this) has re-recorded "Get on Your Feet" as "Put On Your Mask."

That's good to hear. Even if it's a silly pop song and wedding reception staple, if it gets people to stop politicizing a virus and actually act as if they care about others, I applaud the effort.

I'm not a fan of the MSS (those in the know, know...), but I'm grateful to anyone with a platform who is willing to advocate for good practice, common sense, and most of all, admonishing others to show concern and care for others. And to take responsibility and do their part. There will be a time in our future where we look back on these days, and we will be asked what we did to help, what our role was. And for those who can't answer that question without concrete evidence of contributing to the cause of the cure, or worse, can show nothing more than a few social media posts that help them brag about their strident political hobbyism, I do hope you can get it together and start being part of the solution. If nothing else, listen to Ms. Estefan, and Put on your Mask!

Perhaps the real problem is selfishness and our fetisization of individual freedoms, which is really just giving into our narcissism and indulging our worst instincts of self-satisfaction. Or self-satisfaction. We're a civilization of self-pleasers bent on achieving our individual mandates, regardless of the presence, needs/desires, or hopes of others. Don't believe me: drive a little too slowly in the fast lane.

I know not everyone is awful, but the world sure does seem to be full of assholes who equate happiness to achieving their individual happiness at the expense of others. Or those who believe in conspiracy theories because the bullshit is more interesting, or rather more easy to understand, than the reasoned out and rational truth.

I know I'm generalizing, and most of us are good people, all suffering from the same anxieties and pursuing the same satisfaction of the same basic needs, namely to be happy, safe, loved, and that our default mode is not really selfishness. But, it's really hard to believe in the best of us when I see so much of the worst of us in almost everything we do.

Freedom shouldn't be about making yourself happy or indulging in your own needs without regard for the rest; it's about coexisting with others and doing right by others so they do right by you. That's the golden rule, in so many words. It's a simple concept--do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. I've been hearing it since I was a kid, and it's the one lesson I'm thankful for having been subjected to an awful 10+plus years of Catholic school. I wish I knew how to teach it to everyone...

OK, moralizing--DONE.

Gives me a reason to write about Seattle's original grunge pioneers, the progenitors of the scene and the sound, far better than Mudhoney and some of the other noise/scratch rock outfits that get bigger billing.

Screaming Trees--a blues outfit that knew how to channel the metal gods that smiled down upon Seattle in those glorious days of the late 80's into the early 90's and gave us the blessed new anvil pounding symphony from Vulcan's blacksmithery, otherwise known as Grunge. I argue they were the inventors of what became most indicative of what the grunge sound is: metal and classic rock, with a healthy dose of the blues. These sounds are most evident on anything by Screaming Trees, and they are at their best when the sound it somehow comfortable  slipping into multiple timelines.

Screaming Trees hit a major radio blast with their single "Nearly Lost You" and their biggest commercial success, Sweet Oblivion. But Screaming Trees are a band that were a small blip on a big screen that deserve a much deeper listen. Led by Mark Lanegan, who in other times might have been a sage meant to be rediscovered and worshiped long after he was done, Screaming Trees were, to me, quintessential grunge: heavy, heavy rock, played in homage to the giants of blues and doom that came before them, channeling a vibe that spoke of darkness, but resounded with downtuned guitars and what might have been the real and true heavy metal thunder. But, they had pop sensibilities, too, and the sweetness filtered through heavy doses of drugs and getting lost in the woods gave them a sound that was unique. Screaming Trees had potential to grow into something a lot more interesting, had they given themselves the room and time to explore and hadn't been sidetracked by extra-curricular activities. Like so many of the Seattle bands, they were potential cut down well before their prime, ruined and dissipated and finished long before they had reached their potential. There is a good catalog here, full of promise and a lot of sonic what-might-have-been. Screaming Trees deserve a serious and enthusiastic listen. Too bad it didn't get past the excess.
Say no to drugs.
Be kind to your neighbor.
Wear your mask.

Oh, yeah: the song..."Girl Behind the Mask" is from 1987's Even If And Especially When, on the venerable SST label. It's a silly bit of pseudo-psychedelic rock. A love song about a mysterious girl.

I wonder how we might end up thinking about masks, given the metaphorical weight they've carried for so long, compared to essential importance we now give to donning one. Masks used to be something to hide behind on nights and times given over to wanton fun and celebrations. Or when robbing a bank. Or doing some downhill skiing. Now, it's all about saving a life, yours or your neighbors.

The girl behind the mask? The world behind the mask. I hope. Until we get through this. Look out for your neighbor; be responsible; take care of your fellow human being. Let's get through this. We are all responsible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


By now you know the score, I type the theme into search on my i-tunes and snarf up anything applicable. Mask wasn't so great, masque slightly better, but nothing that grabbed me or enough. Maybe if I do a second post. So it was to synonyms I sauntered, learning a bit along the way.

No, me neither, I had no idea the sort of mask as above is actually called a domino. Sure, no use against the virus, and pretty damn poor as a disguise, but it is what is is. Very popular in the Venetian Carnival, it seems, whereby folk could get up to all sorts of malarkey, being entirely unrecognisable to one and all, as they spread, no doubt, a good deal more than aerosol droplets.

Damn right, it's Sir George (Ivan) Morrison at the front, with Domino,  his exuberant paean to inscrutability, the meaning, as ever, as clear as murk. If you don't believe me, go check out the lyrics. They are unlikely to be about the board game beloved of the old and simple, so who's to say there isn't some mystical reference to masking up. Cos' Van is always mystical, or was 1980 to about 2000. Now he's just plain grouchy. But, back then, this track from 1970's His Band and the Street Choir, he was on fire, the musicianship and sassy play exemplary. (I read the song was actually a tribute to New Orleans legend, Fats Domino, exquisitely proving my point about it being nothing to do with dominoes. How could you possibly line up 1000 Fats Dominoes and see them tumble as anything wholesome to watch.)

Those nice boys from Squeeze provide our next tribute to limited disguise. In their later days, as glory began to dissipate, this is a fairly typical construction of their very well put together magpie pilfering of styles, built to carry the vocal and lyrical chicanery of Tillbrook and Difford. The title track from 1998 album, Domino. Here there is a mention of tumbling pieces, presumably in reference to the amount of drinking going on, itself another staple of their storybook songs. They play on to this day, I'm pleased to say, perhaps more heritage now than cutting edge, but all power to that.

The Big O, then, and a cat called Domino. Another reference to the big fella from N'Awlins, actually and really called (Antoine Dominique) Domino? I think not, the feline being the factor here, as many a cat has markings evoking a domino. None of this hipster slang, man, as those cats in the Cramps can confirm. From when Orbison was just amongst a cluster of rockabilly rebels trying to catch the crown of the King (Creole), perhaps that is why it seems so reminiscent.

I don't actually think much of this song, a slimmer effort, Domino Dancing,  by the sometimes wonderful Pet Shop Boys. Picking up on the Squeeze song, this again has the masked revellers all falling down as the absinthe hits. (Probably beer in the Squeeze world, but I can't quite ever see the PSB with anything quite so common.)

All in all I feel I have made a sound and sturdy case for my thesis. No more will you think of the Lone Ranger without remembering his mask and its name.

 Quickly before signing off, time again to return to the Belfast Gypsy and his imagery. Sticking to his theme, here is another in the same vein. And this his time truly about Kemosabe.

Go, Domino!

Masks: Steve Miller - the Joker

purchase [The Joker, album]

I think it's safe to say that the visual image most people conjure of the joker is some variation of the classic Batman archenemy - pretty much what the cover of the Steve Miller Band's 1973 album of the same name depicts.

You've got to drill down to the fifth page of a google search for the term <joker> before you can get out links to the movies and reach the Mirriam-Webster definition of the generic term, which is what I was looking for. Looking for because I suspicion that the popular association with the Batman character is relatively recent. The first entry at is "a person given to joking". The second is what I was looking for: "a playing card ..". And that is what I suspect would have been the popular visual association up until a few decades ago. Granted, the associated image from a deck of cards is what most of us would term a "jester".

Jester or Joker, Batman or Steve Miller, all "mask up" (Miller's covering and the KISS images that you are familiar with are pretty muchly contemporaneous) You can dig deeper here: there is a Wikipedia category labelled <Masked Musicians> with 114 entries as I write.

We are also aware of the "classical" Greek theater masks, and that's about as far back as written records of their use go. No small number of articles in publications such as Psychology Today look at the masks we all wear, knowingly or not, without actually "putting" them on. When Oscar Wilde said "Be yourself; everyone else is taken.", he was referencing this use of masks - pretending to be something/someone you are not in the face of society.

But this isn't a blog about states of mind - unless you want to consider that music is in fact a state of mind. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to enjoy and consider Steve Miller's Joker. I had been listening to a fair amount of Steve Miller before The Joker. Songs like

Space Cowboy, from Brave New World

and Song for Our Ancestors, from Sailor

I seem to recollect that Joker was a breakout piece for the Steve Miller Band, a trend that continued for a few years after with the similarly well-received Fly Like an Eagle and Abracadabra. The lyrics of The Joker get at the stuff of Oscar Wilde and Pychology Today: a life of many facets. Maurice, the space cowboy, grinner, lover, sinner, joker, smoker, midnight toker. The lyrics also include a "nonce word" [a coined word]: pompatus, as in
'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.
And there is a Wikipedia article about how that all probably came about.

The list of on-time members of the band include Boz Scaggs, Nicky Hopkins, Les Dudek among another 20 or so that I confess don't mean as much to me. And that is undoubtedly my loss, but one that I can correct somewhere down the road.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Masks: I Advance Masked

Andy Summers/Robert Fripp: I Advance Masked
[purchase through Discogs because Amazon’s prices are not reasonable ]

You’re probably sick of reading how I learned something interesting in researching my post, but this time, I learned four interesting things. And what better way to spend the continued COVID-19 life slowdown than learning three interesting things about music, right?

First, if you asked me who was older, Andy Summers, former guitarist for The Police, or Robert Fripp, King Crimson guitarist, I probably would have said Fripp. Mostly because he’s been pretty famous since the late 1960s, is generally categorized as being a prog-rocker and usually wears suits these days, while Summers became famous as the guitarist in a punk band in the late 70s-early 80s. But that’s wrong. Summers is 77 (!), while Fripp is 74. I think I knew that Summers played in Soft Machine, and with other bands before The Police, but I guess his time in that band made me think he was younger than he is (Sting is 68 and Stewart Copeland is 67. Henry Padovani, The Police’s original guitarist (!), is also 67.)

The second thing that I learned is that Summers and Fripp first met in the early 1960s, when Summers’ band, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, was the regular entertainment at the Bournemouth Majestic Hotel when Fripp was attending Bournemouth College. And when Zoot Money moved to London, Fripp’s band, the Majestic Dance Orchestra, replaced them at the hotel. The Majestic was a Jewish hotel, and the Majestic Dance Orchestra occasionally played weddings and bar mitzvahs. (Interesting thing number three!) Apparently, the two incredible, but different, guitar players remained friends.

We’ll get to the fourth interesting thing soon.

In 1981 and 1982, when both men had time between their Police and Crimson obligations, they met to jam together, and those sessions ultimately resulted in an album of 13 instrumentals entitled, I Advance Masked. To my ears, much of the album, and particularly the title track, displays some similarity to the interlocking guitar work that Fripp was doing with Adrian Belew in the recently reformed King Crimson, except that Summers and Belew’s styles are very different, so it didn’t sound exactly like Crimson. Not being a guitarist, or really a musician of any sort, I’ll let Summers describe how his and Fripp’s styles were different:

We’re still pretty much polar opposites in our playing. Robert over the years has gone down one line, the polyrhythmic single-line approach, and he’s brought it to a degree of perfection where he can improvise on it and play it like no other guitarist in the world. His strengths are playing the sort of fuzz solo, very quirky and very rhythmic. I’m classically-trained, came up playing pop and blues (Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Soft Machine, Animals, etc.), a regular rock soloist in many ways. It’s hard, but it clicks. Robert gives the music a spine, he’s the masculine element, and I probably represent the feminine side of the duo, but out of it a whole new personality emerges. It’s a beautiful form of alchemy. 

The song, remarkably, also spawned a very bad video:

So, what’s the fourth thing? The title of the song and album was derived from something that none other than René Descartes once wrote in a diary, and which supposedly became the second most famous thing he ever said (although I admit to never having heard it before): “larvatus prodeo,” which sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but means, “masked, I advance.” Apparently, it relates to how Descartes had to disguise his true self to succeed.

OK—there’s a fifth thing I learned, although it isn’t as interesting as the other stuff. On the DGM Live website, the official site for Fripp/Crimson and related projects (and projekcts), Fripp often publishes a daily diary, and since March, he occasionally titles them “I Advance Masked,” and includes a picture of him in a mask. Here’s one recent example.